Sometimes, that hole can’t be filled.
I stood there in my suit and tie, which I barely wore. I had a surreal moment where I remember the last time I put it on; it was for a job interview two years ago. Since then, it sat in the closet, on a hanger, untouched and unused.
The idea that I had to put it on again for a friend’s funeral seemed...out of place, somehow. Like I should have put on different clothes for this.
I stood in front of the coffin and looked down at my best friend Kenny, reclining in it; his face appearing calm and serene, as though he was taking an afternoon nap, instead of his final rest. Just last week he and I were discussing his dreams to visit Tibet and possibly see Everest. We were sitting on his back porch, watching his kids play in the late afternoon sun, cold beers in our hands and bellies full of his wife’s cooking. I watched his kids running around, chasing each other, laughing and screaming while the sounds of dishes and pots banging together under running water drifted through the open kitchen window.
“I can’t stay here, Marco,” he sighed before sipping. “I just...I need to get out and experience something. Like those times I talked about going on a safari in the jungles of Africa, or exploring glaciers in Antarctica...that kind of stuff.”
“You have great kids, and a loving wife,” I replied, my butt firmly placed on the top back porch step, which was bathed in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun. “To me, that’s my idea of heaven. What else could you want?”
He stared off into the trees beyond the edge of his property, saying nothing as he sat there, beer in hand. The writers called it ‘the thousand-yard stare’ and it was usually associated with soldiers who had seen too much war.
I had been seeing a lot of it in Kenny’s eyes as of late, whenever we got together. This topic of his feeling empty and restless had been on his mind a lot, for a while.
“I just...I feel empty, Marco. Like there’s a huge hole in me that was never plugged. Like it’s too late to plug it.”
I felt uncomfortable at this. I didn’t know how to respond to this kind of talk, and my stomach twisted and churned like I had active snakes in my belly. “Well, you need a therapist, my man. Someone who can fix your noggin.”
“I made an appointment for a shrink up in the city,” he said, still staring into the distance as the trees rustled and swayed in the breeze. He tipped back his bottle and swigged until it was empty, then set it down. “I hope he can help me.” Kenny turned to face me. “Haven’t you ever felt...I dunno, ‘empty’ Marco? Like there was a huge piece of you that was missing?”
Crank up the snakes churning in my stomach, now having a full-on dance party. “Uh...Kenny, I don’t know what you mean. I don’t know this stuff--I’m just a car mechanic. I can help you rebuild your GTO, but this mental stuff...” I shrugged, and finished off my beer, the last suds tickling my throat as it went down.
In retrospect, I wished I had listened to him more, and had advice to give him. Something, anything, to prevent what happened two days later. Instead, he got up, gave a half-hearted grin, and looked at his kids with undisguised envy. “I wish I was like them. So full of promise and hope. A life ahead of them that hasn’t been ruined.”
I got up and clapped him on the back. “C’mon. Let’s help Lena put the food away.” I smiled, trying to get his mind off of this subject. I gave him a gentle push back into his house, towards his kitchen.
Now, here I was a week later, staring down at his corpse. I had to admire the job the embalmers did; he still looked alive. Like he would get up at any second, smile, and go hug his kids, and kiss his wife. Poor Lena. She was sitting in the front row of the church, dressed in black, bawling her eyes out while her sisters did their best to support her. She loved Kenny so much...I guess it just wasn’t enough.
His kids were there too; little blonde-haired, blue-eyed angels that looked out of place in their black suit and dress. Hannah, the youngest at five, was kind of dazed and out of focus, not understanding the ways of grown-ups and why they were doing these things for her daddy, whispering questions about why he was sleeping in a big wooden box.
Ernest, at seven, had his father’s thousand-yard stare right now, dark circles under his eyes from loss of sleep. He was the one who found Kenny with his wrists slashed and his life bled out down the drain of his family’s bathtub. That poor kid. That’s the last thing any child that age should go through.
I made my way to the podium, and tapped the mic. I heard the thump-thump-thump resound through the church. Yep, it worked.
I was not a public speaker. I hated the idea of doing this, and the snakes in my stomach started roiling again. But as Kenny’s best friend, it was my duty. So, I manned up, and spoke:
“I knew Kenny. We grew up together in the South Side, going to Saint Martha’s together, and later Bowie High. He got into computers, and met his lovely wife, Lena.” I tried to smile at the tearful woman sitting in the nearby pew. She continued crying, inconsolable, and my heart hurt to hear her in such pain.
“He was lucky to be a father to two great kids, Ernest and Hannah,” I paused at this. Hannah looked up at me from her seat in the church, and waved, smiling. I gave a little wave back before continuing.
“Kenny had dreams about exploring Mount Everest, kayaking down the Amazon River, and diving for treasure wrecks off the coast of Florida. He was also a practical man, and he put them aside to be a husband and father. He didn’t want his children to grow up like he did, without a father to care for them. As soon as he heard the knews that Lena was pregnant, he turned to me and said, ‘Marco, I’m going to be the best father those kids ever had,’ and I believed him. When Kenny did something, he did it with his heart and soul.”
I paused at this. What do I do now? I express his private regrets that he wished he did those adventures? That would tear Lena apart, not to mention give his kids issues. There had to be a better way to tell people what was going on inside him without turning him into a villain. He truly did love his wife and kids...but in the end, I guess he really didn’t know how to reconcile setting aside his dreams for the life of a husband and father.
...And that must have been what wrecked him inside, and drove him to end it.
“I don’t know what happened. I knew Kenny talked about an emptiness inside him, and at the time, I didn’t know what it was. But it bothered him a lot. Like he...like there was something inside him that was a hole that needed filling with something. I just wish I knew what it was when we spoke; maybe I could have helped him. I’m good at fixing cars; I’m not good at fixing people.”
I turned to the coffin at this, and spoke to my dead best friend. “Kenny, I’m sorry. I wish I knew what to say so that you didn’t do this.” The hot tears began to roll down my cheeks at this, and I let them. “I wish there was a way you could have filled that hole inside you. I wish there was a way I could have helped you fill it. I wish there was a way to...to have helped you, somehow.” I turned back to the mourners, many of them sniffling and bringing out kerchiefs and tissues.
I continued. “Growing up, I didn’t have a brother--I was an only kid. But Kenny was the closest thing to a brother I ever had... and I wish I had my brother back.” I wiped the tears away with my suit sleeve, leaving shiny trails on it as I went back to my seat.